Chapter Six – The Wide Waters
Anzety, brother of Neferaset and the high priest of the temple of Isis, stood between the landing pillars and looked into the distance at the pilgrim boat departing from the eastern bank of the great river, heading for the temple island of Gezirah an-Nabatath, his home for the past ten years.
The old and rickety craft rolled heavily at the limit of his vision. He could see that she was packed with the final group of official visitors to the temple, whose numbers would soon swell the rites of Akhet, the all-important season of inundation. Many of those now making their passage across the powerful side currents of the river would have journeyed for days or even weeks to join in the festivities of this, the most revered of the island’s religious festivals.
The old barque was the last temple ferry to depart the despatch point on the mainland and, upon its arrival at the landing dock which he now guarded, the gates of the island would be closed and locked; not to be opened for the three days to follow.
For that time, all present would help begin the cycle of initiation–bestowed, in honour and recognition, to the one chosen from among those destined to become the new priests of Isis. Anzety knew Amkhren, the chosen, well. He had spent the past seven years trying to put a hard head on those young and too-trusting shoulders. But the young man had a secure future as a fine priest; and, possibly, if his sister, the high priestess, had her way, something more…
Anzety thought of Neferaset, now at her preparatory duties inside the closed bronze doors of the central temple, beyond the tall pylons which marked the entrance to the sacred inner sanctuaries–where none but the priests or their invited guests dared to tread. He turned to look at the stragglers from the previous boat – talking happily in the late afternoon sun near one of the outbuildings, which would act as dormitories for the days ahead. There were few luxuries on the temple island – everything was dedicated to that which lay beyond the senses. The reflection brought to mind the condition of what he thought of as the mind of Egypt, herself, and Anzety grew wistful as he reflected on the turbulent times in which sister and brother had chosen to establish their unorthodox temple.
“But for Seti…” Anzety mused to himself, closing his eyes and dissolving a knot of fear at the thought of the imminent transition of their long-time friend and protector.
Egypt was a changed land; no longer the assured centre of the known world, it had suffered two cataclysms in its recent past. The first had been its six-generation occupation by the Hyksos Kings–those from the lands of the far north-east. The second had been the brief but deadly, fourteen-year reign of Akhenaten, the self-styled Son of the Sun; a man so devoted to religious revolution that he had closed down all the temples, forbidden the annual festivals–the only chance the working people had to participate in the worship of their local deities–and sacked all the priests, installing himself as the only connection between the all-giving Aten, the sun-disc, and the inundated Black Land of Egypt, ruled by his ruthless civil service.
Now, just over forty years later, the last of the stones of the city of Armarna, the Heretic King’s replacement for the temples of Amun Ra at Thebes, were being removed, an evisceration that had lasted several decades, to provide building materials for the common folk who had been so brutally robbed of their birthright. Akhenaten had become known, simply, as The Erased, and his memory was being literally chisled from the lists of Kings and and from the story of the land of Egypt. The erasers were those who came after him – including, and most passionately, the present pharaoh, Seti, himself. The dwellers on the island lived a complex and precarious existence, Anzety thought, quietly…
There was, of course, another view of what Akhenaten had done.
To speak of it meant death; but there was a different perspective, at least as regards the heretic King’s religious ideals. This belief was held by a strange and eclectic group of minds whose focus was the divine – in all its forms. To them, the doomed heretical pharaoh had opened a bridge to the world beyond the neters – the gods; but the priestly pharaoh had failed to leave behind a priesthood that could teach its revolutionary methods. Politically immature, but possibly closer to the Creator than any other Egyptian had ever been, Akhnaten had left no spiritual heirs …
Anzety turned his head to look at the temple’s huge bronze doors. Only two people were in that sacred space – the chosen apprentice, Amkhren, and Anzety’s sister, the high priestess. He looked to the sun and smiled into the golden light of the late afternoon, imagining it reflecting from those tall doors. No-one knew better than he how skilled she was in the theatre of the rites; and how easily she could provoke the reactions she needed, in order to bend the mind of another to her, admittedly noble, purposes. Although they had spent much of their childhood apart, they had come together again following his years in the reinstated temples of Thebes, to establish the island sanctuary of Isis/Mut. Had that only been ten years ago?
In many ways, the temple on Gezirah an-Nabatath was her creation. Oh, he had been happy to lend his experience, and willingly; but it was she who had painted the vision to Seti I, their benefactor, now lying in his bed in far-away Pi-Ramesse, the new royal capital in the Nile’s vast delta. Anzety shook his head at the thought of a world without Seti. He hoped that history would be kind to the great thinker and warrior; the leader who had risen from humble origins and reunited a devastated Egypt after the psychological crumbling of the Heretic’s short reign.
King Seti had been a fine benefactor. He had provided the island, the stone builders, the money for the construction; and the all-important approval for the spiritual mapping of the rites. And now, Seti was dying…
Anzety looked down at the orange sun-scarf wrapped around his right wrist and left there while he read the messenger’s sad news on the parchment wrapped in the bright linen. There was work to do; and the temple cycle about to start was too important to the continuation of the cult of Isis to let the death of a King interrupt it… and Seti, strangely-named Beloved of Set–the slayer of Osiris and enemy of Horus– would have understood that…
The high priest raised his hand and waved the bright scarf to the lead oarsman in the prow of the ferry now approaching the landing stage. He wondered at the number of fellow priests massed in the overloaded boat, but dismissed the thought as unimportant.
Index to previous chapters:
Introduction to River of the Sun
In April 2015 a group of people gathered in the Derbyshire hills to enact the Silent Eye’s annual Mystery Play, entitled, The River of the Sun. The five-act mystical drama formed the backbone of that Spring weekend, and told the fictional story of a clash of ego and divinity set in an Isis-worshipping temple located on an island in the Nile, during the the fascinating period of the 19th dynasty, the time of Rameses the Great.
The 18th and 19th dynasties were a time of upheaval for ancient Egypt on many levels. The reign of the ‘Heretic King’ Akhenaten saw Egypt’s religious structure torn apart, as the revolutionary Pharaoh became what Wallis Budge called the ‘world’s first monotheist’; re-fashioning the power of the many Gods with one supreme entity – the visible sun disc, the Aten, for which Akhenaten, alone, was the high priest. Many have pointed to the failure of the ‘herectic’ Pharaoh’s politics, but few have doubted the sincerity of his religious vision. He will, forever, remain an enigma.
Whatever the nobility of his goal, the actions he took were ruthless, and included the shutting down of the annual deity festivals which were the sole point of ritualistic contact between the ordinary people of Egypt and their locally-worshipped gods. In addition, Akhenaten paid little attention to the domestic and military affairs of Egypt, allowing the country’s enemies to encroach on its borders, greatly weakening Egypt’s power at that critical time for the region.
After Akhenaten’s brief reign, culminating in the Pharaoh’s mysterious death, shadowy military forces took control of Egypt, instigating the 19th dynasty in the persons of Rameses I and, soon thereafter, Seti I, whose throne name derives from the god Set – often considered the ‘evil one’ because of his slaying of his brother, Osiris.
Seti I is judged by modern historians as having been one of the greatest-ever pharaohs, yet his importance in the 19th dynasty was eclipsed by the actions of his second son, the brilliant Rameses II, whose long reign of over sixty years included much self-promotion and the alteration of Egypt’s recent history. Both Seti and Rameses II (Rameses the Great) were passionate about the evisceration of the last traces of Akhenaten’s ‘chaos’, as they saw it.
But, although, by the 19th dynasty, the the ‘Son of the Sun’ was long dead and the buildings of his embryonic and doomed city of Tel-al-Armana were reduced to rubble, something of that time remained in the Egyptian consciousness. A new kind of connection between Pharaoh and God had been established, one which elevated mankind, if only in the being of the Pharaoh, to be someone who ‘talked with God’. It was, at the very least, a bold experiment and, though the world would have to wait until the 19th century to re-discover the ‘erased’ pharaoh, the philosophical waves of that period rippled out and dramatically affected the way the incoming 19th dynasty had to repair the worship of the Gods, uniting the people of Egypt under a trinity of Amun-Ra, Khonsu and Mut.
Our fictional story is a tale of politics, friendships, mind and faith. It is set against an historically accurate background, and at a time when Rameses was due to take the throne from the dying Seti .
Returning to Thebes in his swift warship, crewed by his fearsome Talatat mind-warriors, Rameses decides to mount a surprise night-time raid on the island-based Isis temple which has prospered under the sponsoring reign of his father. Rameses suspects that the inner teachings conducted by the revered High Priestess and Priest conceal views that relate to the thoughts of the heretic Pharaoh, Akhenaten. He plans to insert himself and his warriors of the mind into the islands’s Spring rites as the high priest and priestess begin a cycle of initiation for a chosen apprentice priest who has proved himself worthy of special advancement.
The resulting clash draws everyone, including the young Pharaoh-in-Rising, into a spiralling situation where each is forced to confront their own fears as well as living out the roles which life has allocated them. River of the Sun is the story of a spiritual and political encounter from which none emerge unchanged, including the man who will shortly be Pharaoh, the mighty Rameses II, whose secret name for himself is ‘the unchosen’.
Through the eyes and minds of those surrounding the chosen priest and the ‘unchosen’ Pharaoh, the River of the Sun takes us on a tense and compelling journey to the heart of power and its eternal struggle with truth.
The chapters of the book will be serialised in this blog. The finished work is planned to be available in paperback and Kindle by the end of January 2015, and will contain the full novel plus an appendix of the dramatic rituals used to enact the story in April 2015.
©Copyright. River of the Sun, serialised here, and its associated images, is the intellectual property of Stephen Tanham and is Copyright material.